So, your dog is limping from one of the back legs. You may have noticed limping on and off for a few months. Or perhaps, you have observed a sudden lameness, just for a couple of days. Your veterinarian diagnosed a knee problem, and you have been told that your pet needs surgery. You are not alone.
Knee or stifle conditions are some of the most common orthopedic problems seen in dogs. The stifle is a complex joint found midway in the back leg of your dog. It involves three bones: the femur, the patella (kneecap) and the tibia. Even though the stifles can be affected by a large number of conditions, by far the most common ones are patellar luxations and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. There are a number of treatment options for these conditions, all of which keep expanding with advances in veterinary medicine.
Treatment recommendations are not cookie cutter, and must be formulated based on the individual physical characteristics of the dog, the lifestyle of the dog, and the specific stifle pathology of the joint. Treatment recommendations are also dependent on the level of expertise and knowledge of the doctor performing the evaluation and recommendation. Stifle orthopedic problems can produce much confusion among dog owner when it comes to treatment. Often, owners seek second opinions for treatment options. Cats can also suffer from ACL tears and patellar luxations, even though they’re not as common as in dogs.
The orthopedic conditions of the stifle and the possible treatment approaches are complex and very patient-specific. The important point to remember is that if your dog shows persistent lameness in one of the back legs, do not ignore it. Get a proper diagnosis by a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible. Conservative treatment should be initiated first (rest, anti-inflammatories, analgesics, professional physical therapy, custom made orthopedic devices) before surgery is considered. Remember that the surgical repair of these conditions is not an emergency that needs to be dealt with within one or two weeks. Surgery is not without complications, and when planning on it, an experienced veterinary orthopedic specialist is required. If your dog has problems on both stifles, avoid surgical repair of both limbs on the same day. It is best to have surgery on one leg at a time, because recovery is faster when there is a healthy leg to assist with strength and balance.
Professional physical therapy, when provided by a veterinarian with accreditation in this field (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, CCRP) will manage the stifle diseases without the need for surgical intervention for certain patients. On the other hand, when surgery is required, physical therapy can maximize the level of recovery, and shorten the recovery time. It is your responsibility to make the best medical decision for your canine best friend. Do not rush your decision for treatment. Always get second and third opinions, if you need to.
Dr Sanchez-Emden is the founder of the Animal Health and Rehab Center in South Miami. She has been practicing veterinary medicine for 25 years. As a Certified Veterinary Journalist, she is the resident veterinarian for Telemundo. She authored the book “CHIHUAHUAS: How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend”. She also hosts the podcast show “Hablando de Perros y Gatos con Dr Marta” available at the main internet platforms. Follow her her blog, drmartavet.com, and on social media @Drmartavet on You Tube, Instagram and Twitter. Also find her at Facebook.com/dr.sanchezemden and animalhealthrehab.com